Jewish Holidays

5778 (2017-2018)

Sep 21-22, 2017 Rosh Hashannah
Sep 24, 2017 Tzom Gedaliah
Sep 30, 2017 Yom Kippur
Oct 5-11, 2017 Sukkot
Oct 12, 2017 Shemini Atzeret
Oct 13, 2017 Simchat Torah
Nov 18, 2017 Sigd
Dec 13-20, 2017 Chanukah
Dec 28, 2017 Asarah B’Tevet
Jan 31, 2018 Tu B’Shvat
Feb 28, 2018 Ta’anit Esther
Mar 1, 2018 Purim
Apr 2-7, 2018 Pesach
Apr 12, 2018 Yom HaShoah
Apr 18, 2018 Yom HaZikaron
Apr 19, 2018 Yom HaAtzma’ut
May 3, 2018 Lag B’Omer
May 13, 2018 Yom Yerushalayim
May 20-21, 2018 Shavuot
July 22, 2018 Tisha B’Av
July 27, 2018 Tu B’Av

grapes of canaanChodesh Av: Dealing with Tragedies

Chodesh Av occurs during Av (in July and August). The month of Av is a month of tragedies for the Jewish people.

Some of the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people during the month of Av include:
The spies spoke evil of Eretz Yisrael – Twelve spies were chosen to scout out Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) by Moses. The spies reported to Moses and the people their fears that the people in the land (Canaanites) were too mighty to conquer. Only Joshua and Caleb gave a good report. Due to this report, the Hebrews were forced to wander the desert for forty years.

The Destruction of the First Temple and the Second Temple – The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Jews were exiled to Babylon. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Roman in 70CE. The Jews were exiled throughout the world until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

Massacre of Jews by the Romans at Betar – Betar was the last standing Jewish fortress in the Bar-Kochba rebellion in the second century CE. Betar was destroyed by the Romans on Tish B’Av (ninth of Av) and effectively ended any Jewish dreams of freedom.

The Jews were expelled from Spain – Several months after the fall of Granada an Edict of Expulsion (Alhambra decree) was issued against the Jews of Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. It ordered all Jews of whatever age to leave the kingdom by the last day of July, (Tisha B’Av).

The killings at Treblinka began – Treblinka II was designed purely for the extermination of people. It was one of five secret camps of Operation Reinhard. Kulmhof (Chełmno) extermination camp was built as first. It was a pilot project for the development of the next four camps; the remaining three being Belzec, Sobibor and Majdanek.In addition, the killing facilities were developed in Auschwitz II-Birkenau within the already existing camp (Auschwitz I).

jewish tabernacleChodesh Nisan: Commemorating the Exodus

Chodesh Nisan (occurs in March or April). It is called the first month because it is the month of the Exodus from Egypt.

The first commandment given from God to the Jewish people was to establish the First Month.

Exodus 12:2: This month shall be to you the head of the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year.

The first day (Rosh Chodesh) of the First Month was chosen by God to inaugurate the Mishkan (the temporary Temple used in the desert and Eretz Yisrael before the First Temple).

Exodus 40:2: On the day of the first month, on the first of the month, you shall set up the Mishkan of the Tent of Meeting.

moses and the ten commandmentsChodesh Sivan: Commemorating the Giving of the Torah

Chodesh Sivan occurs during Sivan (in May and June). During the month of Sivan, the Jews were given the Torah by God through Moses at Mount Sinai.

moses destroys the ten commandmentsChodesh Tammuz: Dealing with Tragedies

Chodesh Tammuz occurs during Tammuz (in June and July). It is during this month that a great deal of tragedies began that led to even greater tragedies.

Some of the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people during the month of Tammuz include:
Moses smashed the Tablets
The walls of Jersualem were breached by the Romans.




Nebuchadnezzar_CoinAsarah B’Tevet

Asarah B’Tevet is a Rabbinic fast day that occurs on 10 Tevet (in December or January) and is celebrated as a day-fast. It is a day of grief and mourning over the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar that led to the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews to Babylon. It has become a day of mourning for those lost in the Shoah (Holocaust). Asarah B’Tevet is also a day of remembrance for two other tragedies that occurred during this time. The first tragedy is the Torah being translated to Greek on the eighth of Tevet in the second or third century BCE. The second tragedy was the death of Ezra that occurred on the ninth of Tevet. It is a time of fasting, prayer, and self-reflection.

Fasting begins at dawn and ends at sundown. This is one of the public fast days (the others being Tzom Gedaliah, Shiva Asarah B’Tammuz, and the Fast of Esther). If Asarah B’Tevet falls on Shabbat, the fast is delayed. Eating and drinking are not permitted. Those in ill health, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children are exempt from the fast. In Israel, Kaddish (prayer for the dead) is said for those whose date or place of death is not known (and this, is a day of mourning for those lost in the Shoah).

II Kings 25:1-4: And it was in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylonia came, he and his entire army, against Jerusalem and encamped against it, and they built works of siege around it. And the city came under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. On the ninth of the month, the famine became severe in the city, and the people of the land had no food. The city was broken into, and all the men of war [fled] at night by way of the gate between the two walls that was near the king’s garden, and the Chaldees were surrounding the city, and he went by way of the Arabah.

On the tenth day of the tenth month (Tevet) in the ninth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (588 BCE), the Babylonian king began his siege of Jerusalem. On the ninth of Tammuz – two-and-one-half years later – Nebuchadnezzar broke through the walls of Jerusalem.

Jeremiah 52:6-7: In the fourth month, on the ninth of the month, the famine became severe in the city, and the people of the land had no food. The city was broken into, and all the men of war fled and emerged from the city at night by way of the gate between the two walls that was near the king’s garden, and the Chaldeans were surrounding the city, and they went by way of the Arabah.

The siege ended on the ninth of Av, three weeks later and the Jews were taken captice to Babylon.

The first reference to Asarah B’Tevet as a fast appears in Zechariah 8:19:
So said the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth [month], the fast of the fifth [month], the fast of the seventh [month], and the fast of the tenth [month] shall be for the house of Judah for joy and happiness and for happy holidays-but love truth and peace.

Other references can be found in:
Ezekiel 24:1-2: Then the word of the Lord came to me in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth of the month, saying: “Son of man, write for yourself the name of the day, this very day; the king of Babylon has besieged Jerusalem on this very day….”

Jeremiah 52:4-6: And it was in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth of the month, that Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon came, he and his entire army, against Jerusalem and encamped against it, and they built works of siege around it. And the city came under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. In the fourth month, on the ninth of the month, the famine became severe in the city, and the people of the land had no food.


Chanukah, the festival of lights, is a Rabbinic clebration that begins on 25 Kislev (in November or December). Chanukah celebrates the miracle of the oil in the Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabees’ defeat of the Greek army as well as the Jew’s freedom in the current time. Chanukah is not mentioned in the Hebrew Scripture but is related in the book of Maccabbees, which Jews do not accept as scripture. The only religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles. The candles are arranged in a chanukiah that holds nine candles: one for each night, plus a shamus (servant) at a different height. It is traditional to eat fried foods, such as latkes (potato pancakes), on Chanukah because of the significance of oil to the holiday. Gift-giving is not a traditional part of the holiday, but has been added in places where Jews have a lot of contact with Christians, as a way of dealing with our children’s jealousy of their Christian friends. It is extremely unusual for Jews to give Chanukah gifts to anyone other than their own young children. The only traditional gift of the holiday is gelt, small amounts of money (often chocolate coins). Another tradition of the holiday is playing dreidel, a gambling game played with a square top. Most people play for matchsticks, pennies, M&Ms or gelt.

When the Second Temple in Jerusalem was looted and the services stopped, Judaism was effectively outlawed. In 167 BCE Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple. He banned circumcision and ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the altar of the Temple.

Antiochus’s actions proved to be a major miscalculation as they were massively disobeyed and provoked a large-scale revolt. Mattathias, a Jewish priest, and his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah led a rebellion against Antiochus. Judah became known as Yehuda HaMakabi (“Judah the Hammer”). By 166 BCE Mattathias had died, and Judah took his place as leader. By 165 BCE the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was successful. The Temple was liberated and rededicated.

The festival of Hanukkah was instituted by Judah Maccabee and his brothers to celebrate this event.After recovering Jerusalem and the Temple, Judah ordered the Temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be built in place of the polluted one and new holy vessels to be made. According to the Talmud, olive oil was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. But there was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle.

Chanukah candles are placed in the chanukiah from right to left. On each night, the left-most  (newest) candle is lit first. On Shabbos, the Chanukah candles are lit before the Shabbos candles. The chanukiah should be placed outside the door opposite the mezuzah or in a window in order to proclaim the miracle of Chanukah which demonstrated the omnipotence of God. The candles are lit before the blessings are read.

Hoshannah_RabbahHoshanah Rabbah

Hoshanah Rabbah occurs on the seventh day of Sukkot (21 Tishri-in September or October). Seven circuits are made around the bimah while carrying The Four Species. For this reason, the seventh day of Sukkot is known as Hoshanah Rabbah (the great Hoshanah). It is celebrated by the beating of the aravah, prayer, and marching around the bimah.

Hoshana Rabbah is known as the day of the final sealing of judgment which began on Rosh Hashana.The Zohar says that while the judgment for the new year is closed on Yom Kippur, it is not “sealed” until the end of Sukkot (i.e., Hoshana Rabbah, the last day of Sukkot), during which time one can still repent.

Among Sephardi Jews, prayers known as “Selichot” (forgiveness) are recited before the regular morning service (these are the same prayers recited before Rosh Hashanah). In the different prayers of this day, Syrian Jews pray in the same maqam (melody) as on the high holidays. In Amsterdam and in a few places in England, America, and elsewhere, the shofar is also sounded in connection with the processions. The latter practice reflects the idea that Hoshana Rabbah is the end of the High Holy Day season, when the world is judged for the coming year.

bonfireLag B’Omer

Lag B’Omer is the thirty-third day in the counting of the Omer and occurs on 18 Iyar (in April or May). The mourning practices of the Omer period are lifted on that date. It is celebrated by family gatherings, picnics, and the celebration of Yahrtzeit at the graves of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Elazar b’Rabbi Shimon.

The 33rd day of the counting of the Omer is Lag BaOmer. The origins of the Omer count are found in the Torah itself:
Leviticus 23:15-16: And you shall count for yourselves, from the morrow of the rest day from the day you bring the omer as a wave offering seven weeks; they shall be complete. You shall count until the day after the seventh week, [namely,] the fiftieth day, [on which] you shall bring a new meal offering to the Lord.

The 49 days of the Omer correspond both to the time between physical emancipation from Egypt and the spiritual liberation of the giving of the Torah at the foot of Mount Sinai on Shavuot, as well as the time between the barley harvest and the wheat harvest in ancient Israel.

The Talmud (Yevamot 62b) states that during the time of Rabbi Akiva 24,000 of his students died from a divine-sent plague during the counting of the Omer. The Talmud then goes on to say that this was because they did not show proper respect to one another, befitting their level; they begrudged each other the spiritual levels attained by their comrades. Jews celebrate Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day of the count, as the traditional day that this plague ended.

After the death of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students, he taught just five students, among them Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. The latter went on to become the greatest teacher of Torah in his generation. The day of Lag BaOmer is also celebrated as the Yahrzeit, the anniversary of the death, of bar Yohai,who is purported to have authored the Zohar, a landmark text of Jewish mysticism.


Pesach (Passover) is a Biblical festival that begins on 15 Nisan (in March or April). Pesach is an eight-day holiday that celebrates the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt and our freedom from oppression in modern days. The holiday is also referred to as Chag he-Aviv (the Spring Festival), Chag ha-Matzoth (the Time of Our Freedom). It is the first of the three pilgrimage festivals with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Shavuot and Sukkot). Agriculturally, it represents the beginning of the harvest season in Israel.

The primary observances of Pesach are related to the Exodus from Egypt after generations of slavery. This story is told in Exodus, Chapters 1-15. Many of the Pesach observances are instituted in Chapters 12-15. Probably the most significant observance related to Pesach involves the removal of leaven/chametz (the five major grains-wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt) from our homes. Ashkenazi Jews also avoid kitniyot (rice, corn, peanuts, and legumes-beans) as if they were chametz. We may not own, benefit from, or eat chametz during Pesach (this includes food for the animals). All chametz, including utensils and other kitchen accessories used to cook chametz, must either be disposed of or sold to a non-Jew (they can be repurchased after the holiday). This commemorates the fact that the Jews leaving Egypt were in a hurry, and did not have time to let their bread rise.

The process of cleaning the home of all chametz in preparation for Pesach is an enormous task. To do it right, you must prepare for several weeks and spend several days scrubbing everything down, going over the edges of your stove and fridge with a toothpick and a Q-Tip, covering all surfaces that come in contact with foil or shelf-liner, etc. After the cleaning is completed, the morning before the seder, a formal search of the house for chametz is undertaken, and any remaining chametz is burned. The grain product we eat during Pesach is called matzah which is unleavened bread, made simply from flour and water and cooked very quickly. This is the bread that the Jews made for their flight from Egypt.

The day before Pesach is the Fast of the Firstborn, a minor for all firstborn males, commemorating the fact that the firstborn Jewish males in Egypt were not killed during the final plague. It is traditional to study a tractate of Talmud during the night which then allows these men to avoid the fast (one must celebrate when finishing a tractate of Talmud). On the first night of Pesach (first two nights for Jews outside Israel), a seder is held. Pesach lasts for seven days (eight days outside of Israel). The first and last days of the holiday (first two and last two outside of Israel) are days on which no work is permitted. Work is permitted on the intermediate days (Chol Ha-Mo’ed).

Order of the Seder:
Kaddesh – Recite the Kiddush elevating this night above the mundane
Urechatz – Wash the hands before eating karpas
Karpas – Eat a vegetable dipped in salt water so we may taste the tears of anguish and despair of our ancestors when they were slaves in Egypt
Yachatz – Break the middle matzah and put away the larger half for the afikoman while the smaller piece personifies the spiritual and material destitution of our ancestors in Egypt
Maggid – Narrate the story of the Exodus beginning with a child asking “Why is this night different from all other nights?” to put us back in touch with childhood innocence
Rachtzah – Wash the hands prior to the meal to internalize humbleness
Motzi – Recite hamotzi (over matzah) implying that the raw energy from food can give us energy to better serve God
Matzah – Recite the blessing over the matzah to exemplify selfless ego and remind us that our ancestors accepted God-given freedom with selfless ego rather than arrogance
Maror – Recite the blessing for the eating of the maror in order to taste the bitterness of the exile and clarify the significance of the exile
Korech – Eat the sandwich of matzah and maror to emphasize that now that we are free of slavery we are to reach out to others and share our freeing experience
Shulchan Orech – Prepare the table for the festive meal that begins with dipping a hardboiled egg in saltwater to symbolize our ongoing mourning for the destruction of the Temple and the meal represents our ongoing, common, goal of redemption
Tzafun – Eat the afikoman that had been hidden during the seder as a symbol that we are connected to God and we must go through the trials of life (represented by the other parts of the Seder) and listen to our yearning to become connected with God
Barech – Recite the Birchat HaMazon and fill the Cup of Elijah after which we stand at the open door with a candle reciting the passage inviting Elijah to appear and usher in the redemption
Hallel – Recite the Hallel (Psalms of Praise) as a way of revealing God’s kindness and compassion
Nirtzah – Conclusion of the Seder with the wish “Next year in Jerusalem” invoking the idea that daily we leave Egypt when we reach for higher levels of holiness


Purim (which means lots) is a Rabbinic celebration that occurs on 14 Adar (in February or March). Purim is one-day holiday that celebrates the victory of Esther and Mordechai over the evil Haman who plotted to kill the Jews as described in the Book of Esther.

The primary mitzvot of Purim is to hear the reading of the Megillah (Book of Esther). It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle groggers (noisemakers) whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in the service. The purpose of this custom is to blot out the name of Haman. We are also commanded to eat, drink and be merry. According to the Talmud, a person is required to drink until he cannot tell the difference between cursed be Haman and blessed be Mordecai. In addition, we are commanded to send out gifts of food or drink, and to make gifts to charity. The sending of gifts of food and drink is referred to as shalach manos (sending out portions). Among Ashkenazic Jews, a common treat at this time of year is hamentaschen (Haman’s pockets). These triangular fruit-filled cookies are supposed to represent Haman’s three-cornered hat. It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations on Purim and to perform plays and parodies.

The Book of Esther begins with a six month drinking feast given by king Ahasuerus, for the army of Persia and Media, for the civil servants and princes in the 127 provinces of his kingdom, at the conclusion of which a seven day drinking feast for the inhabitants of Shushan, rich and poor with a separate drinking feast for the women organised by the Queen Vashti in the pavilion of the Royal courtyard.

At this feast Ahasuerus orders his wife Vashti to display her beauty before the people and nobles wearing her royal crown. She refuses, and Ahasuerus decides to remove her from her post. He then orders all young women to be presented to him, so he can choose a new queen to replace Vashti. One of these is Esther, who was orphaned at a young age and was being reared by her cousin Mordecai. She finds favor in the king’s eyes, and is made his new wife. Esther does not reveal that she is Jewish.

Shortly afterwards, Mordecai discovers a plot by courtiers Bigthan and Teresh to kill Ahasuerus. They are apprehended and hanged, and Mordecai’s service to the king is recorded.

Ahasuerus appoints Haman as his prime minister. Mordecai, who sits at the palace gates, falls into Haman’s disfavor as he refuses to bow down to him. Having found out that Mordechai is Jewish, Haman plans to kill not just Mordecai but the entire Jewish minority in the empire. He obtains Ahasuerus’ permission to execute this plan, and he casts lots to choose the date on which to do this – the thirteenth of the month of Adar.

When Mordecai finds out about the plans he orders widespread penitence and fasting. Esther discovers what has transpired; she requests that all Jews of Shushan fast and pray for three days together with her, and on the third day she seeks an audience with Ahasuerus, during which she invites him to a feast in the company of Haman. During the feast, she asks them to attend a further feast the next evening. Meanwhile, Haman is again offended by Mordecai and builds a gallows for him.

That night, Ahasuerus suffers from insomnia, and when the court’s records are read to him to help him sleep, he learns of the services rendered by Mordecai in the previous plot against his life. Ahasuerus is told that Mordecai had not received any recognition for saving the king’s life. Haman then appears, and King Ahasuerus asks Haman what should be done for the man that the King wishes to honor. Thinking that the King is referring to Haman himself, Haman says that the honoree should be dressed in the king’s royal robes and led around on the king’s royal horse. To Haman’s horror, the king instructs Haman to do so to Mordecai.

Later that evening, Ahasuerus and Haman attend Esther’s second banquet, at which she reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to exterminate her people, which includes her. Ahasuerus instead orders Haman hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. The previous decree against the Jews could not be annulled, so the King allows Mordecai and Esther to write another decree as they wish. They write one that allows the Jews to defend themselves during attacks. As a result, on 13 Adar, five hundred attackers and Haman’s ten sons are killed in Shushan. Throughout the empire an additional 75,000 are slain. On the 14th, another 300 are killed in Shushan.

Mordecai assumes the position of second in rank to Ahasuerus, and institutes an annual commemoration of the delivery of the Jewish people from annihilation.

East-Side-PhaseRosh Chodesh

Rosh Chodesh, the celebration of the New Moon, occurs on the first (and sometimes the second) day of each month. In ancient times, two witnesses would appear before the Sanhedrin stating they saw the first sliver of the moon after the dark of the moon. If the Sanhedrin determined that it was in fact true, messengers were sent out throughout the land to announce the new month.

The day after the moon appeared became a day of celebration and special sacrifices. Since the destruction of the Holy Temple, the sacrifices stopped and are now replaced by prayers. It remains a custom in some communities for women to refrain from work on Rosh Chodesh, as a reward for their refusal to participate in the incident of the Golden Calf.



shofarRosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year – falls on the first and second days of the Hebrew month Tishrei. The Torah calls Rosh Hashanah Yom Ha-Zikkaron (the day of remembrance) or Yom Teruah (the day of the sounding of the shofar). Rosh Hashanah is the day that Hashem created man. Rosh Hashanah is a time to begin introspection, looking back at the mistakes of the past year and planning the changes to make in the new year. Work is forbidden on Rosh Hashanah and most of the day is spent in shul. The regular daily prayers are expanded and a special siddur – called the Machzor – is used during the High Holy Days. The religious services for the holiday focus on the concept of the sovereignty of Hashem.

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation. You shall do no manner of servile work; and you shall bring an offering made by fire unto the LORD. (Leviticus 23:23-25)

Rosh Hashanah is set aside as the day to begin calculating the years of the Shemitah (or Sabbatical) year and the Yovel (or Jubilee) year.

“On the first of Tishri is new year for years, for release and jubilee years, for plantation [of trees] and for [tithe of] vegetables.” (Rosh Hashanah 2a)

The Mishnah references Rosh Hashanah as being one of four seasons of Divine judgment. “At four seasons [Divine] judgment is passed on the world…At New Year all creatures pass before Him like children of Maron [one by one], as it says, ‘He that fashions the heart of them all, that considers all their doings’ [Psalm 33:15].” (Rosh Hashanah 16a)

Rosh Hashanah was declared a day of Divine judgment for two reasons. First, on this day the creation of the world was completed. It was the intention of Hashem that the world would be ruled by the trait of strict justice. Second, it was on this day that Adam was judged. After Adam repented, Hashem forgave him.

The Tanakh in Bamidbar 29:1 refers to the holiday as Yom Teruah (the day of the sounding of the shofar – יוֹם תְּרוּעָה ) and in Vayikra 23:24 as Tzikron Teruah (the memorial of the sounding of the shofar – זִכְרוֹן תְּרוּעָה ).

The shofar is a horn (typically a ram’s horn) that was used by the Children of Israel to announce the holidays, beginning of a new month, start of Shabbat, and in times of war. After the destruction of the Temple, the shofar became used mainly during the High Holy Days, and (in Israel) to announce the beginning of Shabbat.

According to Rambam, when one hears the shofar on Rosh Hashanah it seems to say: “Wake up you sleepy ones from your sleep and you who slumber, arise. Inspect your deeds, repent, remember your Creator. Those who forget the truth in the vanities of time and throughout the entire year, devote their energies to vanity and emptiness which will not benefit or save: Look to your souls. Improve your ways and your deeds and let every one of you abandon his evil path and thoughts.” (Teshuva 3:4)

Hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a positive mitzvah as it is stated in Bamidbar 29:1: “And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a holy convocation: you shall do no manner of servile work; it is a day of blowing the horn unto you.” Even though it is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah that the sounding of the shofar must occur on Rosh Hashanah it was determined to be a mitzvah by the Sages. The Torah states in Vayikra (25:9) that the yovel (jubilee) year must be proclaimed by the sounding of the shofar. The Sages go on to say that “just as the ‘sounding’ required by the Torah in the yovel requires a shofar, so, too, the ‘sounding’ on Rosh HaShanah requires a shofar.” (Shofar, Sukkah, and Lulav 1:1)

According to the Shulkhan Arukh (586:1), the shofar that is to be used for the mitzvah concerning Rosh Hashanah must be a ram’s horn and must be bent or curved. A cow’s horn is invalid as are the horns of most other animals since they are solid bone. The horns of non-kosher animals are also not to be used for the shofar. “The time for blowing the Shofer is during the day and not during the night. The Mitzvah is after sunrise. But if you blew the Shofer at daybreak (עמוד השׁחר ), you fulfill the commandment. If you hear part of the blowing of the Shofer before daybreak and part after daybreak, you do not fulfill the commandment. … If Rosh Hashanah falls out on Shabbat, we do not blow the Shofer.” (Shulkhan Arukh 588:1,5)

The Shulkhan Aruckh (589:3,4,6,7) lists three categories of people who may blow the shofar and fulfill the mitzvah for sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashanah.
1. A hermaphrodite may sound the shofar for other hermaphrodites.
2. Women are exempt for sounding the shofar (since it is a time-bound mitzvah) however women are permitted to sound the shofar.
3. A person may sound the shofar for a friend as long as the person is not deriving any benefit from his friend.

Our Rabbis taught that all males have the obligation to sound the shofar. “Priests, Levites and lay Israelites, proselytes and emancipated slaves, tumtum [one of uncertain gender] and androgynus [hermaphrodite], and one who is half slave and half free [a slave of two masters where one master has released him]. A tumtum cannot perform [a religious duty] either for a fellow-tumtum or for anyone else. An androgynus can perform [a religious duty] for a fellow-androgynus but nor for anyone else. One who is half a slave and half free can perform [a religious duty] neither for one in the same condition nor for anyone else”.

According to Rambam nine shofar blasts are to be sounded on Rosh Hashanah. This number is based upon the Torah’s mention of the word teruah (תְּרוּעָה ) – sounding the shofar – three times in association with the yovel year and Rosh Hashana. Every teruah (תְּרוּעָה ) is to be preceded by a single long blast (tekiah) and followed by a single long blast. According to the oral tradition “all the soundings of the shofar of the seventh month are a single entity.” (Shofar, Sukkah, and Lulav 3:1)

For those in the Diaspora, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated for two days. In this case, the shofar is sounded on the second day just as it was sounded on the first day. (Shofar, Sukkah, and Lulav 3:1) Rambam teaches that every male is obligated to hear the sounding of the shofar – Priests, Levites, Israelites, Converts, freed slaves, half-slaves, the tumtum, and the androgynous. Women, slaves, and minors are free from this obligation. (Shofar, Sukkah, and Lulav 2:1) “The congregation is obligated to hear the shofar blasts together with the order of blessings” of the Amidah and the intermediate blessings. (Shofar, Sukkah, and Lulav 3:7-8)

In the commonly accepted custom for communal services on Rosh Hashanah the blowing of the shofar takes place after the Torah is read and returned to its place. The congregation will be seated and one person will stand to recite the blessing:
“Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the universe who sanctified us with His commandments, commanding us to hear the sound of the shofar.”

The Shehecheyanu is then recited by the same person:
“Praise are You, Lord our God, King of the universe who granted us life, who sustained us, and who enabled us to reach this day.” After which the 30 shofar blasts are sounded.

Kaddish is then recited and the musaf service follows during which the final shofar blasts are sounded.[6]

A popular observance during this holiday is eating apples dipped in honey, a symbol of our wish for a sweet new year. Another popular practice of the holiday is Tashlikh (“casting off”). We walk to flowing water, such as a creek or river, on the afternoon of the first day and empty our pockets into the river (generally this means casting bread into the water), symbolically casting off our sins. The common greeting at this time is L’shanah tovah (“for a good year”). This is a shortening of “L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem” (or to women, “L’shanah tovah tikatevi v’taihatemi”), which means “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

Candles are lit and blessings are said on the first night and the second night in order to help usher in the Holy Day. Kiddush (blessing over wine/grape juice) is said as well as the blessing over the challah (braided bread). Slices of the challah and apple slices are dipped in honey, representing sweetness and hope for the new year.

[light candles]
Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the Holy Day light.

Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who has chosen and distinguished us from among all others by adding holiness to our lives with His mitzvot. Lovingly have You given us the gift of this Day of Remembrance, a day of the shofar sound, a day of sacred assembly recalling the Exodus from Egypt. Thus You have chosen us, endowing us with holiness from among all peoples. Your faithful word endures forever. Blessed are You, Hashem, King of the universe who hallows the people Israel and the Day of Remembrance.

[ritual washing of hands]
Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe Whose mitzvot add holiness to our lives and Who gave us the mitzvah of washing hands.

[blessing over challah]
Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe Who brings forth bread from the earth.

[blessing over challah/apple dipped in honey]
May it be Your will, Hashem, our God and God of our ancestors, to renew this year for us with sewwtness and happiness.

Selichot is the first service of Rosh Hashanah that takes place the Saturday before Rosh Hashanah. Prayers and requests for forgiveness, said throughout the Ten Days of Awe, are heard for the first time. This service usually takes place at or near midnight.

Services are held during both days of Rosh Hashanah. A special siddur (prayerbook), called the Machzor, is used during these services. Special prayers and pleas for forgiveness are recited in addition to the regular weekday and Shabbos prayers. The shofar (typically a ram’s horn) is sounded during the services (except on Shabbos).

Tashlich, a special service, is typically held on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. This service is meant to represent a casting away of sins. The community gathers are a body of water (typically a stream or creek) containing fish where people empty their pockets of crumbs and recite blessings.


Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, is a Biblical festival that occurs on 6 and 7 Sivan-seven weeks after Pesach-(in May or June).  Shavuot is the second of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Passover and Sukkot). The word Shavuot means “weeks.” It marks the completion of the seven week counting period between Passover and Shavuot.Agriculturally, it commemorates the time when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple, and is known as Chag ha-Bikkurim (the Festival of the First Fruits). Historically, it celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is also known as Hag Matan Torateinu (the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah).

The giving of the Torah was a far-reaching spiritual event—one that touched the essence of the Jewish soul for all times. Our Sages have compared it to a wedding between God and the Jewish people. Shavuot also means oath and on this day God swore eternal devotion to us, and we in turn pledged everlasting loyalty to Him.

On the 6th Sivan of the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), seven weeks after the Exodus, God revealed Himself on Mount Sinai. The entire people of Israel (600,000 heads of households and their families), as well as the souls of all future generations of Jews, heard God declare the first two of the Ten Commandments and witnessed God’s communication of the other eight through Moses.2 Following the revelation, Moses ascended the mountain for 40 days, to receive the remainder of the Torah from God.

At Sinai, God rescinded the “decree” and “divide” (gezeirah) that had been in force since the 2nd day of creation separating the spiritual and the physical into two hermetic worlds; from this point on, “the higher realms could descend into the lower realms, and the lower could ascend to the higher.” Thus was born the “mitzvah” — a physical deed that, by virtue of the fact that it is commanded by God, brings Godliness into the physical world.

It is customary to stay up the entire first night of Shavuot and study Torah (Tikkun Leil Shavuot), then pray as early as possible in the morning. Torah study is regarded as the most important of all mitzvot, because it opens the door for observance of the other mitzvot. Says the Talmud (Shabbat 127a): “The study of Torah is equal to the sum total of all other mitzvot. When we study Torah, we are not studying an abstract and arcane text of the ancient world. We are studying the way in which God wants us to live on this earth… (We) are in fact engaged in discovering the essence of Judaism, which is to say, the essence of ourselves.

It is customary to eat a dairy meal at least once during Shavuot. It is a reminder of the promise regarding the land of Israel, a land flowing with milk and honey. A second reason is that the day that Moshe Rabbeinu was pulled from the water by the daughter of Pharaoh, was the Sixth of Sivan, the day on which we celebrate Shavuot. And Baby Moshe refused to nurse from a non-Jewish woman, so that Miriam, Moshe’s sister, was able to get Moshe’s real mother, Yocheved, to be his nurse. A third reason given is that the “gematria,” sum of the numerical equivalents of the Hebrew letters making up the word, of “chalav,” milk, is forty (letter “chet” (8) plus letter “lamed” (30) plus letter “beit” (2) equals forty) which corresponds to the number of days that Moshe studied the Torah with Hashem on the top of Mt. Sinai.

There exists a beautiful custom of decorating the synagogue on Shavuot with flowers and greens, because of the vegetation on Mt. Sinai. Some have the custom of adorning the Sefer Torah with roses. That, in particular, seems to have been an ancient custom, because Haman criticized the Jewish People to Achashverosh because of their observance of that custom.

The Megillah (Book of Ruth) is read at this time as an honor to King David (Ruth was his ancestor) who was born on this day and also died on this day. The Book of Ruth was recorded by the prophet Samuel. It is appropriate to read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot for two reasons: First, because Shavuot is a harvest festival and the Book of Ruth gives us a picture of the harvest, and how the poor were treated in the harvest season with sympathy and love. Secondly, because Shavuot is the anniversary of the passing of King David, who was the great-grandson of Ruth and Boaz, whose story is told in the Book of Ruth. But perhaps the main reason for our reading the Book of Ruth on this festival is because it gives us such a vivid picture of the ger tzedek, true proselyte. Shavuot is the “time of the giving of our Torah,” and when we received it, we too, like the ger tzedek, pledged to accept the Torah and fulfill its 613 commandments.

sukkahShemini Atzeret

Shemini Atzeret occurs on 22 Tishri (in September or October). It brings the celebration of Sukkot into a state of perfection and is celebrated by prayer and the ending of the stay in the sukkah. Shemini Atzeret literally means the assembly of the eighth (day). No work is permitted on Shemini Atzeret. (In Israel Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are celebrated on the same day).


Moses_establishes_the_TabernacleShiva Asarah B’Tammuz

Shiva Asar B’Tammuz (Fast of the 17th of Tammuz) is a Rabbinic fast day that occurs on 17 Tammuz (in June or July). The 17th of Tammuz is a day-fast commemorating the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people on this day. This day is celebrated by the fast, special prayers, and the beginning of the Three Weeks (the annual period of mourning over the destruction of the First and Second Temples).

Five tragedies (Taanit 26b) that have befallen the Jewish people on this date are:
Moses smashed the Tablets of the Covenant at Mount Sinai
Daily tamid (twice-daily sacrificial) offerings ceased
The walls of Jersualem were breached by the Romans
Roman military leader Apostomus burned a Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll)
An idol was erected in the Holy Temple by King Menashe

simchat_torahSimchat Torah

Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah) occurs at the conclusion of Sukkot on 23 Tishri (in September or October). No work is permitted on Simchat Torah. Simchat Torah celebrates the conclusion of the annual reading of the Torah and the immediate beginning of the annual cycle. It is a time to celebrate the central symbol of Judaism, the Torah through prayer and celebration. The last Torah portion, then proceed immediately to the first chapter of Genesis, reminding us that the Torah is a circle, and never ends. This completion of the readings is a time of great celebration. There are processions around the synagogue carrying Torahs and plenty of high-spirited singing and dancing.


Sukkot, the Harvest Festival, occurs on 15 Tishri (in September or October). The word Sukkot means booths, and refers to the temporary dwellings (sukkah) that we are commanded to live in during this holiday.  Sukkot is also a harvest festival, and is sometimes referred to as Chag Ha-Asif, the Festival of Ingathering. The festival of Sukkot is instituted in Leviticus 23:34. It is the third of the three pilgrimage festivals with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Pesach and Shavuot). No work is permitted on the first and second days of the holiday.

The holiday commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. The commandment to “dwell” in a sukkah can be fulfilled by simply eating all of one’s meals there; however, if the weather, climate, and one’s health permit, one should live in the sukkah as much as possible, including sleeping in it. It is common practice, and highly commendable, to decorate the sukkah. In the northeastern United States, Jews commonly hang dried squash and corn in the sukkah to decorate it, because these vegetables are readily available at that time for the American holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Another observance related to Sukkot involves what are known as The Four Species (arba minim) or the lulav and etrog. We are commanded to take these four plants and use them to rejoice before the L-rd. With these four species in hand, one recites a blessing and waves the species in all six directions (east, south, west, north, up and down, symbolizing the fact that God is everywhere). The four species are also held during the Hallel prayer in religious services, and are held during processions around the bimah each day during the holiday. These processions, known as Hoshanahs, commemorate similar processions around the alter of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.

estherTa’anit Esther

Taanit (Fast of) Esther is a Rabbinic fast day that occurs on 13 Adar-the day before Purim-(in February or March). It is a day-fast that commemorates the three-day fast of Esther, Mordechai, and all of Klal Yisrael as described in the book of Esther. It is celebrated by fasting, giving to the poor, prayer, and reading the Book of Esther (Megillah Esther).

Fasting begins at dawn and ends at sundown. This is one of the public fast days (the others being Tzom Gedaliah, Shiva Asarah B’Tammuz, and Asarah B’Tevet). If the Fast of Esther falls on Shabbat, the fast is observed the preceding Thursday. Eating and drinking are not permitted. Those in ill health, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children are exempt from the fast.

Babylonians_Siege_of_JerusalemThree Weeks

The Three Weeks is a time of deep mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Temples. During these weeks, the Haftarah on Shabbat are taken from Jeremiah and Isaiah which deal with the exiles and the destructions of the Temples. Joy and celebration is minimized during this time as an act of mourning. During the three weeks weddings are not performed, music is not listened to, Jews avoid celebrations and pleasure trips, haircuts and shaving are not done, and the Shehecheyanu blessing is not recited over new food or clothes (except on Shabbat).

The Nine Days (the first of Av through the ninth of Av) is an even more intense period of mourning. During this period, purchasing new, joyful products is not done, home improvement or planting trees/flowers is suspended, meat and wine is not consumed (except on Shabbat), cleaning clothing is not done and newly laundered clothes are not worn (except on Shabbat), and bathing for pleasure is not permitted.

tisha_bavTisha B’Av

Rosh Chodesh Av – the first day of the Hebrew month of Av – begins the most intense mourning period of The Three Weeks. This nine-day mourning period culminates in the fast of Tisha B’Av.

Tisha B’Avis a Rabbinic fast day that occurs on 9 Av (in July or August). This day is a day of fasting and commemorating the multiple tragedies that have occurred on this day, most notably the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Tisha B’Av primarily commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples, both of which were destroyed on the ninth of Av. Tisha B’Av is the culmination of a three week period of increasing mourning, beginning with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, which commemorates the first breach in the walls of Jerusalem, before the First Temple was destroyed.

During this three week period, weddings and other parties are not permitted, and people refrain from cutting their hair. From the first to the ninth of Av, it is customary to refrain from eating meat or drinking wine (except on Shabbat) and from wearing new clothing. The restrictions on Tisha B’Av include refraining from eating and drinking (even water); washing, bathing, shaving or wearing cosmetics; wearing leather shoes; engaging in sexual relations; and studying Torah. Work in the ordinary sense of the word is also restricted. Many of the traditional mourning practices are observed: people refrain from smiles, laughter and idle conversation, and sit on low stools. In synagogue, the book of Lamentations is read and mourning prayers are recited. The ark (cabinet where the Torah is kept) is draped in black.

Five tragedies (Taanit 26b) that have befallen the Jewish people on this date are:
Decree that the Hebrews would not enter Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel)
Destruction of the first Holy Temple
Destruction of the Second Holy Temple
Betar was captured
Jerusalem was razed

It was decreed that the Children of Israel would not enter Eretz Yisrael.
Numbers 14:26-35: The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “How much longer will this evil congregation who are causing to complain against Me [exist]? The complaints of the children of Israel which they caused them to complain against Me, I have heard. Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘if not as you have spoken in My ears, so will I do to you. In this desert, your corpses shall fall; your entire number, all those from the age of twenty and up, who were counted, because you complained against Me. You shall [not] come into the Land concerning which I raised My hand that you would settle in it, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. As for your infants, of whom you said that they will be as spoils, I will bring them [there], and they will come to know the Land which You despised. But as for you, your corpses shall fall in this desert. Your children shall wander in the desert for forty years and bear your defection until the last of your corpses has fallen in the desert. According to the number of days which you toured the Land forty days, a day for each year, you will [thus] bear your iniquities for forty years; thus you will come to know My alienation. I, the Lord, have spoken if I will not do this to the entire evil congregation who have assembled against me; in this desert they will end, and there they will die. As for the men whom Moses had sent to scout the Land, who returned and caused the entire congregation to complain against him by spreading [a slanderous] report about the Land”

The First Beit HaMikdash (Temple) was destroyed.
Jeremiah 39:1-2: In the ninth year of Zedekiah the king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon and all his army came to Jerusalem and besieged it. In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month on the ninth of the month, a breach was made in the city.

II Chronicles 36:17-20: And He brought upon them the king of the Chaldeans, and he slew their young men by the sword in their Temple, and he had pity neither on youth nor virgin, elder nor ancient one; He delivered all into his hand. And all the vessels of the House of God, both large and small, and the treasuries of the House of the Lord, and the treasuries of the king and his officers; he brought everything to Babylon. And they burned the House of God, and they demolished the wall of Jerusalem, and all its palaces they burned with fire, and destroyed all its precious vessels. And he exiled the survivors from the sword to Babylon, and they became vassals to him and to his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia.

The Second Beit HaMikdash (Temple) was destroyed.
“NOW as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury, (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other work to be done,) Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminency; … But for those that were taken in the temple of Jerusalem, they made the greatest figure of them all; that is, the golden table, of the weight of many talents; the candlestick also, that was made of gold, though its construction were now changed from that which we made use of; … These lamps were in number seven, and represented the dignity of the number seven among the Jews; and the last of all the spoils, was carried the Law of the Jews.” (Flavius Josephus – The War of the Jews, Book VII)

The city of Betar was captured.
“It was the custom when a boy was born to plant a cedar tree and when a girl was born to plant a pine tree, and when they married, the tree was cut down and a canopy made of the branches. One day the daughter of the Emperor was passing when the shaft of her litter broke, so they lopped some branches off a cedar tree and brought it to her. The Jews thereupon fell upon them and beat them. They reported to the Emperor that the Jews were rebelling, and he marched against them. He hath cut off in fierce anger all the horn of Israel. R. Zera said in the name of R. Abbahu who quoted R. Johanan: These are the eighty [thousand] battle trumpets which assembled in the city of Bethar when it was taken and men, women and children were slain in it until their blood ran into the great sea.” (Babylonian Talmud – Gittin 57a)

Jerusalem was razed to the ground.
“Now Simon would not tell them, but bid them call for their captain; and when they ran to call him, Terentius Rufus who was left to command the army there, came to Simon, and learned of him the whole truth, and kept him in bonds, and let Caesar know that he was taken. This Tereutius Rufus … is the same person whom the Talmudists call Turnus Rufus; of whom they relate, that ‘he ploughed up Sion as a field, and made Jerusalem become as heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high Idaces of a forest;’” (Flavius Josephus – The War of the Jews, Book VII)

“The last of the five events of Tisha b’Av can be interpreted along the same lines. The final razing of Jerusalem was designed to quash any hopes among the Jews for a restoration of their sovereignty, or even of their ability to dwell in the city. Once again, on the very date which marked the Jewish people’s original spurning of Eretz Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael was showing its own scorn for the Jewish people.” (Babylonian Talmud – Ta’anit 29a)

Other tragedies have also occurred on Tisha B’Av in the modern era.
In 1095 the First Crusade was declared by Pope Urban II resulting in 10,000 Jews killed in first month of Crusade and nearly the total obliteration of many communities in Rhineland and France.

In 1290, the Jews were expelled from England, their sacred texts and writings were destroyed and their property was confiscated.

The Spanish Inquisition culminated with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.

World War I broke out on the eve of Tisha B’Av in 1914. German resentment from this war set the stage for the Shoah.

On Tisha B’Av eve 1942, the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka began.

The deadly bombing of the building of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina killed 86 people and wounded some 300 others in 1994.

Lamentations 5:21-22: Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old. For if You have utterly rejected us, You have [already] been exceedingly wroth against us.

Joshua_passing_the_River_JordanTu B’Av

Tu B’Av occurs on 15 Av (in July orAugust). This day is a day of commemorating joyous occasions – including the end of the 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. There are no real rituals or customs for this day except confessions of sins and other related portions of the daily prayers are not read.




Fruit_trees_עצי_פרי_(42)Tu B’Shevat

Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish Ecology Day, occurs on 15 Shevat. Tu B’Shevat is an agricultural holiday that celebrates the earth and its produce. This holiday is the new year for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing.

And when you shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then you shall count the fruit thereof as forbidden; three years shall it be as forbidden unto you; it shall not be eaten. And in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy, for giving praise unto the LORD. But in the fifth year may you eat of the fruit thereof, that it may yield unto you more richly the increase thereof: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:23-25)

Tu B’Shevat is considered one of the four Jewish new years according to the Talmud.

There are four new years. On the first of Nisan is the new year for kings and for festivals. On the first of Elul is the new year for the tithe of cattle. Rabbi Eleazar and Rabbi Simeon however place this on the first of Tishri. On the first of Tishri is the new year for years, for release and jubilee years, for plantation and for [tithe of] vegetables. On the first of Shevat is new years for trees according to the ruling of Beth Shammai; Beth Hillel however place it on the fifteenth of that month. (Rosh Hashanah 2a)

There was a difference of opinion between the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel regarding the proper start of Tu B’Shevat. Ultimately, the Sages of the Talmud made the halakhic decision to follow the House of Hillel.

Has it not been taught: ‘As a general principle, the halakhah follows Beth Hillel. (Rosh Hashanah 14b)

The fruit of such a plantation is forbidden until the fifteenth of Shevat, whether as “uncircumcised” in [the year of] “uncircumcision”, or as fourth year fruit in the fourth year’. (Rosh Hashanah 10a)

Our Rabbis taught: If the fruit of a tree blossoms before the fifteenth of Shevat, it is tithed for the outgoing year; if after the fifteenth of Shevat, it is tithed for the incoming year. (Rosh Hashanah 15b)

Today, according to halakhah, fruit is not considered kosher if it is picked before the tree is four years old. Tu B’Shevat is the halakhic beginning of the cycle for counting these four years.

Tu B’Shevat is celebrated through prayer, celebration, and eating the seven types of plant produce that are cited in Deuteronomy 8:8: “…a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey…”

gedaliahTzom Gedaliah

Tzom Gedaliah – the Fast of Gedaliah – is a Rabbinic fast day that falls on the day after Rosh Hashanah (3 Tishrei). It is a fast that was instituted as a lamentation over the assassination of the governor of Judea which ended Jews rule in Eretz Yisrael following the First Temple’s destruction.

And as for the people that were left in the land of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had left, even over them he made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, governor. … But it came to pass in the seventh month, that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama, of the royal seed, came, and ten men with him, and struck Gedaliah, so that he died, and the Jews and the Chaldeans that were with him at Mizpah. (II Kings 25:22,25)

Among the refugees who had joined Gedaliah in Mizpah was Yishmael, the son of Nataniah, a descendant of the royal house of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. Baalis the king of Ammon, who had been following with apprehension the regrowth of Judah under its new governor Gedaliah, encouraged and sent Yishmael to assassinate him. In the seventh month (Tishrei) Yishmael came to Gedaliah in the town of Mizpah in Benjamin, and was received cordially. Gedaliah had been warned of his guest’s murderous intent, but refused to believe his informants, believing that their report was mere slander. Yishmael murdered Gedaliah, together with most of the Jews who had joined him and many Babylonians whom Nebuchadnezzar had left with Gedaliah.

And Ishmael the son of Nethaniah and the ten men who were with him arose and struck Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan, with the sword, and he slew him, whom the king of Babylon had appointed in the land, and all the Jews who were with him, with Gedaliah in Mizpah, and the Chaldeans who were found there, the men of war, Ishmael struck. (Jeremiah 41:2-3)

This fast day is spoken about two separate times in Zechariah. The first is in chapter seven which says: Then came the word of the LORD of hosts unto me, saying: ‘Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying: When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and in the seventh month, even these seventy years, did you at all fast unto Me, even to Me? (Zechariah 7:4-5)

The second time this fast is spoken about is in chapter eight when this day will be turned into a day of joy in the Messianic Age. And the word of the LORD of hosts came unto me, saying: ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons; therefore love  truth and peace. (Zechariah 8:18-19)

According to the Rabbis the fast of the seventh month “is the third of Tishri on which Gedaliah the son of Ahikam was killed. Who killed him? Ishmael the son of Nethaniah killed him; and [the fact that a fast was instituted on this day] shows that the death of the righteous is put on a level with the burning of the House of our God. Why is it called the seventh? As being the seventh in the order of months.” (Rosh Hashanah 18b)[1]

The fast is observed from daybreak until the stars appear in the sky that same night. Additional prayers are added to the daily prayers on this day and the Thirteen Divine Attributes are said. Since the fast falls during the High Holy Days, an extra portion is added to the Selichot prayer on this fast.

Declaration_of_State_of_Israel_1948Yom HaAtzmaut

Yom HaAtzmaut, also known as Israel Independence Day, occurs on 5 Iyar (in April or May). It is a day of celebration commemorating the day Israel declared its independence.

The Chief Rabbinate along with many other religious authorities declared that Yom Ha’atzmaut is one of the Jewish holidays in which Hallel should be said. Many Israelis celebrate the day with picnics. On the eve of the holiday, people sing and dance in the streets. Balconies are decorated with Israeli flags, and small flags are attached to car windows.

survivors_of_the_european_nazi_campsYom HaShoah

Yom HaShoah, also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day, occurs on 27 Nisan (in March or April). Yom HaShoah is a one-day holiday that celebrates the remembrance of the Shoah during the 1930s and 1940s. It is celebrated by special prayers, reading the names of those who perished, and visiting museums and other places of remembrance. Each family and community has its own way of remembering those who perished in this genocide as well as those who survived.

On the eve of Yom HaShoah in Israel, there is a state ceremony at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes Authority. At 10:00 am on Yom HaShoah, throughout Israel, air-raid sirens are sounded for two minutes. During this time, people stop what they are doing and stand at attention; cars stop, even on the highways; and the whole country comes to a standstill as people pay silent tribute to the dead. On the eve of Yom HaShoah and the day itself, places of public entertainment are closed by law. Israeli television airs Holocaust documentaries and Holocaust-related talk shows, and low-key songs are played on the radio. Flags on public buildings are flown at half staff.

Also during this day, tens of thousands of Israeli high-school students, and thousands of Jews from around the world, hold a memorial service in Auschwitz, in what has become known as “The March of the Living,” in defiance of the Holocaust Death Marches. This event is endorsed and subsidized by the Israeli Ministry of Education and the Holocaust Claims Conference, and is considered an important part of the school curriculum – a culmination of several months of studies on World War II and the Holocaust.

Israeli_flag_at_half_staffYom HaZikaron

Yom HaZikaron, also known as Israel Remembrance Day, occurs on 4 Iyar (in April or May). It is a day to remember those who fought for Israeli independence. Kaddish, the prayer for the dead is said on this day.

This holiday honors veterans and fallen military personnel of the Israel Defense Forces and other Israeli security services who died in the modern Arab Israeli conflict, as well as fallen members of the Jewish Brigade, and of the various paramilitary organization of the Yishuv, such as the Haganah and Irgun, who died before the establishment of Israel (starting from 1860, when Mishkenot Sha’ananim, the first modern Jewish settlement outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, was built). Yom Hazikaron also commemorates civilians murdered by acts of terrorism.

On_the_eve_of_Yom_KippurYom Kippur

The Biblical holiday of Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement – is the last day of the High Holy Days. The fast of Yom Kippur begins at sundown on the ninth of Tishri and continues until the stars can be seen in the sky on the tenth of Tishri.

However on the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; there shall be a holy convocation unto you, and you shall afflict your souls; and you shall bring an offering made by fire unto the LORD. And you shall do no manner of work in that same day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God. For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from his people. And whatsoever soul it be that does any manner of work in that same day, that soul will I destroy from among his people. You shall do no manner of work; it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be unto you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; in the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening unto evening, shall you keep your Sabbath. (Vayikra 23:27-32)

Yom Kippur is a day set aside to “afflict the soul,” to atone for one’s sins of the past year. This Day of Atonement only atones for sins between man and Hashem and not for sins between man and man. According to the Torah Yom Kippur is a day of rest and no work may be done. This day is also a day of afflicting one’s soul (Vayikra 23:32).

In addition to these commands in the Torah, the Mishnah (Yoma 8:1) also speaks of five additional prohibitions:
1. No eating or drinking
2. No wearing of leather shoes
3. No bathing or washing
4. No anointing oneself with perfume or lotion
5. No marital relations

It has been suggested that there is a parallel between the five prohibitions and man’s expulsion from Gan Eden. At the point of the expulsion, free will choices between good and evil truly began and hard work and death became part of mankind’s world. On Yom Kippur, mankind attempts to symbolically return to Gan Eden through repentance.

By the sweat of your face shall you eat bread… (Bereishit 3:19). Before the transgression all food was given to mankind and there was no need to produce food. On Yom Kippur, in order to atone for mankind’s transgression and symbolically return to Gan Eden, one refrains from eating and drinking.

Thorns also and thistles shall it [the ground] bring forth to you… (Bereishit 3:18). When man was in Gan Eden there was no need for shoes to protect against thorns or thistles or even against other creatures. Upon being expelled from Gan Eden, mankind lost the originally given security and was forced to wear leather garments. On Yom Kippur one does not wear leather shoes as a symbolic return to the safety of Gan Eden.

By the sweat of your face… (Bereishit 3:19). Traditionally, it was understood that man did not sweat while in Gan Eden. As a result of the expulsion from Gan Eden mankind was forced to work hard for his or her basic needs. On Yom Kippur one refrains from bathing or anointing oneself as a symbolic return to the state of mankind in Gan Eden.

Unto the woman He said: ‘I will greatly multiply your pain and your travail; in pain you shall bring forth children; and your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you.’ (Bereishit 3:16) In Gan Eden marital relations were not necessary for the propagation of mankind. After the expulsion mankind found it necessary to have relations to ensure the survival of mankind. As a result marital relations are forbidden on Yom Kippur as a symbolic return to Gan Eden.

On Erev Yom Kippur – the night of nine Tishri – the Day of Atonement begins with the service commonly known as Kol Nidre. Kol Nidre is a legal formula where the person asks Hashem to annul all personal vows that he or she may make in the coming year.

A special siddur – known as the Machzor – is used on Yom Kippur. Shachrit – the morning prayer – is preceded by penitential prayers, known as Selichot. This service is followed by an additional Musaf prayer. During the Musaf portion of the Yom Kippur service, a recitation of the sacrificial service of the Temple – known as the Seder Ha’avodah – is recited. The Sefer Ha’avodah recounts the detail of the sacrificial ceremonies that took place on Yom Kippur when the Temple stood in Jerusalem. The main section of the Seder Ha’avodah is a threefold recitation of the Kohen Gadol’s actions in the Holy of Holies.[3] The actions of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur when the Temple stood are described in tractate Yoma. This section of the Talmud is studied on Yom Kippur and integrated into the Musaf portion of the Yom Kippur service. When the Temple stood in Jerusalem the Kohen Gadol had to follow a precise order of services, sacrifices, and purifications on Yom Kippur.

During the Yom Kippur service the Kohen Gadol “wore five sets of garments (three golden and two white linen), immersed in the mikvah five times, and washed his hands and feet ten times. Sacrifices included two (daily) lambs, one bull, two goats, and two rams, with accompanying mincha (meal) offerings, wine libations, and three incense offerings (the regular two daily and an additional one for Yom Kippur). The Kohen Gadol entered the Holy of Holies three times. The [personal Name of Hashem] was pronounced three times, once for each confession.”

The Mincha (afternoon prayer) includes a haftarah which includes the entire Book of Jonah. The Rabbis gave four reasons for reading the Book of Jonah on Yom Kippur.
1. The Book of Jonah reminds one of Hashem’s infinite mercy.
2. The Book of Jonah teaches about teshuva (repentance).
3. The Book of Jonah reminds one that the entire world is in Hashem’s hands.
4. The Book of Jonah reminds one that he or she can still be saved even as the day comes to an end.

The final service of Yom Kippur is called the Neilah service which literally means “closing.” This service references the closing of the gates of heaven. During this portion of Yom Kippur, the doors of the Ark remain open – revealing the Torah Scrolls inside. While the Ark doors are open it is tradition to remain standing. The ending of Yom Kippur comes with the first stars appearing in the sky. It is at this point that the shofar is blown one last time indicating the end of the High Holy Days.

Yom-Yerushalaim-2015Yom Yerushalayim

Yom Yerushalayim occurs on 28 Iyar (in April or May) and is the celebration of the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. It is a day of national celebration and remembrance of those who fought for the reunification of the eternal capital of Israel.

The day is marked by state ceremonies, memorial services for soldiers who died in the battle for Jerusalem, parades through downtown Jerusalem, reciting the Hallel prayer in synagogues, lectures on Jerusalem-related topics, singing and dancing, and special television programming. Schoolchildren throughout the country learn about significance of Jerusalem, and schools in Jerusalem hold festive assemblies. The day is also marked in Jewish schools around the world.